A bistro box makes a perfect light meal or satisfying snack for kids and grown-ups. Here are 10 bistro box lunch ideas for inspiration.
This post was written in partnership with Healthy Family Project.
A bistro box is more than a trendy coffee shop item with a fancy-schmancy name. It’s also:
It’s something you can tuck in a lunch bag with a cold pack and send to school, hand your teen in the car after school on the way to activities, or stash in the work fridge.
You can prep a week’s worth of boxes on Monday. Or fill them with dinner leftovers each evening.
You can make them as large or small as you like (we’re showing different sizes here to give you plenty of ideas).
And by making your own bistro boxes at home, you can pack foods you and your kids like the best–and save a bunch of money.
BONUS: Never run out of lunch box ideas! Grab my mega-list of 100 Lunch Box Ideas
What is a bistro box
A bistro box–sometimes called a protein box and sold at coffee shops like Starbucks–is a portable container of food (like a picnic for one!) and usually features a combination of the following:
- Protein-rich food: Makes lunches and snacks satisfying and is a vital nutrient for growth.
- Grain: The carbohydrates provide energy and brain fuel for the school day, and the fiber keeps kids feeling full enough to focus.
- Fruit: Offers essential vitamins and minerals, fiber, and disease-fighting plant compounds.
- Veggie: Everything fruit offers, plus versatility (and most kids don’t get enough veggies everyday!)
- Healthy fats: These are foods like nuts and seeds, nut butter and seed butter, avocado, and fish.
What containers to use for bistro boxes
Bento boxes (divided containers) or small lunch boxes with tight lids are both perfect for packing bistro boxes, but you can also make any small container work.
My favorite thing about bento boxes is how odds and ends of food can look particularly cute and appetizing. But the best part is that sturdy reusable containers reduce landfill waste and protect their contents better than wraps or baggies.
Here are the containers we used (these are affiliate links):
What to include in a bistro box
Grains such as:
- Whole grain crackers (we like Triscuits)
- Tortillas or pita bread
- Whole wheat bread or sandwich rolls
- Mini bagels
- Muffins and quick breads
Protein-rich foods such as:
- Peanut butter or other nut/seed butters
- Hard boiled egg
- Cooked chicken
- Cheese such as cheddar cheese cubes, Babybel, or string cheese
- Individual cup of hummus
- Nuts or seeds (or trail mix)
- Snack bites/balls
Fruits such as:
- Fresh fruit like berries, grapes, orange slices
- Apple slices dipped in lemon juice or orange juice or sprinkled with cinnamon
- Dried fruit like raisins, pineapple, and apricots
- Freeze-dried fruit like strawberries
Fresh veggies such as:
- Cherry tomatoes
- Baby carrots
- Cucumber slices
- Mini peppers or slices of bell peppers
- Small broccoli or cauliflower florets
- Celery sticks
10 Bistro Box Lunch Ideas
Want to build your own snack boxes or light lunches? Here are ten bistro boxes for inspiration:
Half of a chicken sandwich on whole grain roll + hard boiled egg + berries
2 cheddar cheeses + gluten-free crackers + fresh grapes + bell peppers and snap peas
Nuts + apple slices + Nature Fresh mini sweet peppers + edamame
Nature Fresh medley tomatoes + hard boiled egg + crackers + blueberries
2 Babybel cheeses + crackers + peanut butter pretzels + grapes + bell peppers + Jazz apple
Shelf-Stable Bistro Box!
Beef jerky + whole grain crackers + seasoned kale chips + dried and freeze-dried fruit
Cooked chicken breast + strawberries + gluten-free crackers + carrots and celery
Avocado Toast Box!
Yo Quiero Guacamole + toast triangles + Bee Sweet mandarin + deli meat
Hard boiled egg with everything bagel seasoning + whole grain crackers + cucumber slices + berries
Tips for packing bistro boxes
- If you’re meal prepping the day before, wait to add crackers or bread until the next day to prevent them from getting soggy or stale.
- Drain juicy or drippy items on a paper towel before packing, and check to see if your container is leak-proof (fill one of the compartments with water and turn over to find leaky spots).
- Separate items with silicone muffin cups to keep things neat (or be fancy and use a lettuce leaf, hollowed mini pepper, or Roma tomato half).
- Place a napkin/fork alongside the box (or attach with a rubber band).
How much protein do kids need?
Bistro boxes are often called “protein boxes”, and there’s a lot of hype about protein.
Yes, protein does critical things, like supporting kids’ growth and development. Protein also helps make meals and snacks extra-satisfying, which is why these bistro boxes all feature at least one food that’s especially rich in protein.
But keep in mind that kids don’t need tons of protein to be healthy.
The reality is that most healthy children get plenty of protein, even if meat is not their favorite food. That’s because protein is found in a whole bunch of places. Daily protein needs for kids aren’t very high, and for most healthy kids, protein needs aren’t hard to meet. See my age-by-age visualizations of daily protein needs.
In fact, government surveys show that most children, like adults, get more than enough than protein.
More lunch inspiration
About My Partner: Healthy Family Project
Healthy Family Project is a cause marketing organization dedicated to creating a healthier generation. Since their start in 2002 by Shuman Farms, Healthy Family Project has raised more than $7 million to benefit children and families.
I wrote this post as part of Healthy Family Project’s Back To School Campaign. This year, their brand partners (including Jazz apples and Nature Fresh Farms veggies shown above) have committed to a donation of $14,000 to the Foundation For Fresh Produce, which works to increase accessibility to fruits and vegetables in schools.
Healthy Family Project has healthy recipes and family-friendly tips on their website, and you can follow the on Instagram and TikTok. Or join their Facebook Group, The Healthy Family Project, to chat about feeding kids.
I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for me to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.